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Wendy Mocke, Nalisa (detail), 2019, c-type photographic print. Courtesy of the Artist.

Wendy Mocke

The ‘m e r i’ project

30 October — 11 December 2021

Through the journey of developing this project, I have been a mixture of inspired, heartbroken, enraged, ecstatic but ultimately fall in constant awe of the unwavering deep sense of commitment and fortitude these women harness. I'm hoping 'm e r i' will pry open doors once sealed tightly shut, to allow the courage of these women's words to speak their truth to power.  ”

M E R I

Click a portrait to hear 'm e r i'

Lydia

Marie Rose

Kawaiwan

Helen

Jacqui

Nalisa

Pamela

Mary Jane

Anika

Carol

Shorna

Ellie

Fiona

Lolo

Tamara

Kat

Rose

Maryanne

Tess

M E R I Artist's note, By Wendy Mocke.

The ‘m e r i’ project is a collection of photographs and stories, initiated from years of conversations with young Papua New Guinean women. Whilst unpacking questions surrounding cultural identity and Black womanhood, I encountered a recurring theme: Young PNG women often feel silenced and actively fight against a limited vision of what is deemed possible for themselves. The common portrayal of PNG women in western media is often associated with tragedy or poverty. It is the harmful nature of the western gaze that minimises the full breadth and complexity of the Melanesian woman. This creative project focuses on the re-contextualizing of PNG women. Its aim is to find innovative ways for PNG women to define themselves. To speak their truth to power, without fear of erasure.

The ‘m e r i’ project was created and developed across different countries. It was formed on Djabugay Country, developed further on Yirrganydji Country, Kuku Yalanji Country and even took me across to Motu Koitabu Country in Papua New Guinea. Although I am an Indigenous Pacific Islander woman, I also am a Black settler living on this continent known as Australia. I would like to acknowledge that the First Nations of this land have never ceded sovereignty to their lands and waters. It was and always will be Aboriginal land. To First Nation mob, your family across the solwara stand with you in solidarity and love ALWAYS.

Being a Black Pacific Islander woman is a gravity-defying dance of cultural duality. Our bones remember the names of our Tumbunas and our tribal names sit on the edges of our tongue. It is our map, our return passage back to our homes. Our tumbunas whispered into us the stars they slept under at night. Willing us to move forward, beyond our ancestral land. Into a world that is not quite ready for us.
Being a Black Pacific Islander woman means existing in the intersection of multiple oppressions of racism and misogyny. There is a level of exhaustion that comes with being invisible and highly visible at the same time.

So here she is; meri ya kam nau, yu lukim!… She is of collective power, on the cusp of collective transformation and always… always rooted in rage and love.

This exhibition is dedicated to my Aunty Josie Sataro-Webb. For always reminding me that our collection of yesterdays are but a manifestation of our future in bloom. You are the epitome of grace held together by flesh and blood.

This project is supported by the Cairns Regional Council’s Regional Arts Development fund and the 5Five.

Lydia

You are made to be cherished and loved.

I wish I had the courage to tell my parents about what I
wanted to be.


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Marie Rose

You are a lover of poetry.
Heart so big as the ocean, yet as humble as the first drops
of rain.
Papua New Guinean women have always been looked at
differently. Maybe because it’s the colour of our skin, the texture of hair, our culture…

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Kawaiwan

My cultural background is the roots to my strength.

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Helen

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Jacqui

There is purpose for the breath you take.
When she wakes up tomorrow morning, there will be
new strength to look forward to.

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Nalisa

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Pamela

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Mary Jane

Taim mi grow up, mi grow up osem Transgender.
Pasin na wei blo mi osem em kain osem ol meri. Taim
mi skul yet, kam, kam antap. But then ol femili blo mi
no aceptim mi lo mi usait.

Blood blo mi bai move osem em wankain osem mi.

Mi stap meri, mi dress up meri so bai mi stap meri yet.

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Anika

They are beautiful because they are full of love.

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Carol

You’re expected to make sure that food is ready, laundry
is made, everything in the house should be perfect for
a Papua New Guinean woman…but it’s not that.

I’m an academic, I’m a sportswoman, a single mum
who has had to finally say no to certain things that
have disrupted my family unit.

Going to school overseas, coming back, my parents
made sure I did go home to their villages. That has
helped me treasure my culture and I’ve passed that
onto my children.

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Shorna

Everything in life, nothing is free and nothing is
impossible.
Taim mummy blo mi wok hat lo displa kain, mi wok
long lukim hat wok blo em.

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Ellie

God created us to be equal both male and female.
Culture is good and bad.

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Fiona

We are becoming better educated in the ways of the
white man but many of us still value the ways of our
tumbuna.
PNG is our home, PNG is our lewa.

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Lolo

Sometimes just by going too much and adapting to the
new changes you lose your identity.
By seeing how women are doing it, I’m just wondering
how they gather their strength.
Like in the police, especially women, you don’t wear
high heels to work. And you’ll never see a police man
wearing high heels and I did that.

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Tamara

Remember the sacrifices my ancestors made so that I
could have the opportunities I have today.
We are trailblazers and courageous in the face of trials.
PNG women are a force to be reckoned with when we
are determined.

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Kat

Don’t be afraid of the world.
Carved by traditions, held by white skin, cradled by
dark skin. I am a blend of both.

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Rose

PNG women are capable they can achieve beyond a
male counterpart’s expectations.

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Maryanne

As I grew up, I looked up to her as she had all the
leadership qualities, values and characters of a leader.

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Tess

You are beautiful in your Blackness.
I don’t know who I am outside of my culture.
You are adorned in bilas. You carry your peoples on
your shoulder. They are living in your bilum.

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M E R I Artist's note, By Wendy Mocke.

Being a Black Pacific Islander woman is a gravity-defying dance of
cultural duality. Our bones remember the names of our Tumbunas
and our tribal names sit on the edges of our tongue. It is our map,
our return passage back to our homes. Our tumbunas whispered
into us the stars they slept under at night. Willing us to move
forward, beyond our ancestral land. Into a world that is not quite
ready for us.
Being a Black Pacific Islander woman means existing in the
intersection of multiple oppressions of racism and misogyny. There
is a level of exhaustion that comes with being invisible and highly
visible at the same time.

The ‘m e r i’ project focuses on the re-contextualizing of PNG
women. Its aim is to find innovative ways for PNG women to define
themselves. To speak their truth to power, without fear of erasure.
So here she is; meri ya kam nau, yu lukim!…
She is of collective power, on the cusp of collective transformation
and always…always rooted in rage and love.

I would like to give thanks to all the meris, ol PNG susa blo mi, who gave their time and allowed me into their hearts and minds. I am forever in awe of your quiet power and unfathomable strength. Thank you to the generosity of the Cairns Regional Council for providing opportunities such as the RADF grant that enabled me to embark on this creative journey. Thank you to the fantastic team over at the 5Five, Nicholas Mills & Tegan Koster. For allowing me to use your space, equipment, and donating your time and skills to support Black artists in the north. You continually remind me why the far north is a wonderful and electrifying creative hub of artists with a lot of heart and a lot of fire.

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Guest book

Can not wait to see this!

from Sean Davey

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Iam very proud of you beautiful young PNG women

from Anonymous

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Iam so Happy to hear of this exhibition, and so wonderful to see the Empowerment of Png young women!

from Klare KuOlga

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What incredible work, Wendy ! Truly . Can not wait to see what else you have to exhibit .

from Lorna Earp-Terry

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What a wonderful exhibition, stunning images and fantastic and inspiring stories!

from Jo

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Wonderful strong and evocative works Wendy – may you keep making more, much more. Thank you to all the strong PNG women. Danke.

from Ellie

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You were always a strong personality Wendy! I remember the O art you played in your Senior year in Jacqui Stephen’s play. This one’s going far I thought. And the drawing you did in Year 8 of a little PNG girl carrying the sun on your head running across the mountains from dawn to dusk. Congratulations on your exhibition and on the work you are doing now. Go girl…

from Liz Vermaas

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You were always a strong personality Wendy! I remember the role you played in your Senior year in Jacqui Stephen’s play. That one is going far I thought. And the drawing you did in Year 8 of a little PNG girl carrying the sun across the m mountains from dawn to dusk. Unbelievable magic! Congratulations on your exhibition and also on your present work. Wonderful to see and hear! Go girl…

from Liz Vermaas

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